The Management Network Group (TMNG), a communications-industry consulting firm, was influential in the telecommunications field, but not very well-known by the media.When TMNG wanted to hasten its expansion into wireless communications, the company teamed with Brainerd Communicators to develop a campaign that eventually would take advantage of November's FCC ruling on wireless number portability (WNP) to position the company as a WNP authority, increase its visibility, and expand its business.
Brainerd advised TMNG's research division to survey general users and businesses with 500 or more employees last summer, well in advance of the ruling. Conducting the surveys early assured that TMNG's would be the first voice on the issue and provided a platform for spokespeople to be positioned as experts. A third survey of overall consumer awareness followed in October.
"Part of the challenge was to protect the company's reputation as a trusted partner [to its clients] and still communicate the things that the industry needed to hear," says Michele Clarke, MD for Brainerd Communicators. "Third-party data was critical because TMNG could say, 'We're representing the true sentiment of the industry and our customers' customers in a larger industry issue.' Rich [Nespola, TMNG CEO,] had a view that was broader than any one company's because he saw [the issue] from the vantage point of many companies."
Brainerd mined the data and developed newsworthy information, while keeping specific client information private. Releasing results in June, July, and October as each constituency became affected gave the campaign momentum and allowed TMNG to continually deliver instructions and advice to providers and consumers.
Because TMNG does not directly communicate with consumers, mainstream media coverage was critical. "Pre-briefing analysts under embargo was a cornerstone because it's a complex issue and the potential for misunderstanding was high," Clarke says. "There was less need for trade-press coverage because TMNG communicates directly with carriers."
Primary media targets were national business and tech outlets, and materials included releases, a fact sheet, and executive summary slides.
"Story-invasions," wherein a four-member Brainerd team monitored daily news and inserted spokespeople into WNP coverage, were conducted throughout the campaign.
"Part of the challenge was reporters wanted to know the winners and losers, and I couldn't tell them because all of the big six [providers] are our clients," Nespola says.
Nespola's commitment delivered an unexpected boost to the campaign after he happened to meet Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) on a plane. He got the senator excited about being seen promoting a solution to the WNP issue. At a June press conference for his consumer advocacy campaign, Schumer high- lighted the survey results.
TMNG's stock rose 66% - from an average of $1.94 in June to an average of $3.23 in November. Nespola attributes half of the rise to the campaign. He says it also generated 35 to 40 business leads, including inquires from financial institutions, investors, and Wall Street.
The efforts garnered more than 200 media hits, including CNBC's Closing Bell and Power Lunch, which created its own view poll on the issue, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Boston Globe.
The campaign will continue for the life of the issue. The current focus is on wireline-to-wireless portability, which went into nationwide effect on May 24.
PR team: The Management Network Group (Overland Park, KS) and Brainerd Communicators Inc. (New York)
Campaign: Wireless Number Portability Market Leadership
Time frame: June to November 2003